Melissa Blease meets local food hero Stephen Paul, founder of local produce delivery service Three Bags Full
The freshest milk you can get your hands on without having to keep your own cow in the back garden; eggs that were laid within the last 24 hours; coffee freshly roasted 48 hours before you put your brew on, bread baked by a local baker on the day you slice into it; cheese made on a farm a mere four miles away from your larder; fresh meat and poultry sourced from ethical farms within 15 miles of Bath . . . all delivered to your door on a no delivery charge basis at your command by a very friendly chap on a zero-emissions electric cargo bike – now that’s what I call going shopping.
But if this all sounds too good to be true, you’ve yet to encounter the Three Bags Full delivery service, launched by savvy entrepreneur-with-a-heart Stephen Paul earlier this year.
Yes indeed, TBF is a very cool concept – and the on-trend food fashionistas of Bath have trusted their shopping list needs to Stephen’s panniers faster than you can say fenders. But like many fashionable new enterprises, Three Bags Full has its roots firmly planted in age-old British tradition.
“It’s actually an incredibly simple idea that in many ways harks back to the butchers’ bikes and milk float deliveries of yore,” says Stephen. “The simplicity of the service is the real appeal: good local food delivered by bike, offering a win-win for the customer, the producers and the environment.”
And right now, with an estimated 90% of the UK’s population living in areas where levels of air pollution dramatically exceed WHO limits, Stephen’s business is a literal breath of fresh air.
Stephen spent 30 years working in publishing before grabbing the opportunity to follow a different career route around two years ago, when he read an article about how cargo bikes were being used in a number of continental cities to handle deliveries and help address the problems of air pollution and traffic congestion.
“As I live on the polluted, congested London Road, it all resonated very strongly with me, and the penny dropped: why not try and introduce an electric cargo bike food delivery service to Bath?” And so, last year, he set off for the International Cargo bike Festival in Nijmegen, Holland, held in a disused factory and playing host to global cargo bike manufacturers.
Stephen’s delivery bike which is becoming a regular sight around Bath
It was in Nijmegen that Stephen first laid eyes on his beloved, super-slick Urban Arrow cargo bike, which comes complete with several interchangeable boxes including a cargobox for transporting conventional cargo and a family box for carrying up to three children, fitted with seat belts, a windscreen and a roof to keep the rain out. Was it love at first sight? Pretty much.
“But the most important thing about the Urban Arrow, for me, is that it has an electric motor which makes cycling up to the university or to the top of Lansdown Hill a breeze,” says Stephen. “I’ve left many a conventional cyclist puffing in my wake! The bikes don’t come cheap, however; they’re more expensive to buy than even a used van and it’ll take me a few years to pay off my investment. But my goodness, my bike is a beautiful thing!”
Indeed it is – and it’s a sight that’s becoming more and more familiar to Bathonians as both Stephen’s client and producers’ database gathers momentum at full pelt.
How does Stephen choose which producers to work with? “I’m very lucky to live in a region that offers such great local produce. And the very first step, for me, is to sample that produce. I have to love it before I can consider carrying it. I’m pretty fussy, so I hope that if I like it there’s a good chance other people will too – but of course, that’s hardly an exact science.
“The second step is all about the producers’ set-up. Any food business I work with has to be based within a 15 mile radius of Bath, and must be able to work to our short lead-times as I don’t hold any stock – for example, our deadline for Wednesday deliveries is midnight on Monday. Orders received by that deadline are in turn ordered from the various producers straight away, and the produce is then collected very early on Wednesday morning and delivered to customers during our morning delivery round, or our two evening delivery rounds – regular sleep patterns have become a thing of the past for me.”
Local produce that Stephen picks up for his customers
Ah, but at least there’s a future to look forward to. While Stephen is nowhere near claiming that TBF is an ‘all things to all people’ one-stop shop delivery service (“of course I can’t carry anywhere near as broad a product range as a supermarket can – yet!”), he knows that there are plenty of people out there – doubtless, reading these very words – who appreciate good food, care about their local community, are keen to support local producers and are anxious about the negative effects on our health caused by high levels of air pollution in Bath.
As orders with Stephen’s service grow every week, he’s even already spotting certain trends in the shopping habits of his regular customers, estimating that belly of pork is the most popular cut of meat in Bath right now. Alongside this, his customers can never have too many almond croissants from the Bertinet Bakery, or super-fresh quattro eggs from New Macdonald’s Farm, or too much creamy Jersey milk from Ivy House Farm.
Most recently, the Brown Cow Organics’ yoghurt range has joined the TBF party, while locally-produced cider, charcuterie and chocolate are waiting their turn on the guest list, and pipeline plans for future delivery options include the Three Bags Full dairy box.
So now that Stephen has cycled his way into our local food heroes leaderboard, which of other similarly-minded team mates would he choose to rank in his peloton? “In truth, my personal food hero is in fact my French cousin Michel – he isn’t a professional chef and he’s possibly the most irritating person you could ever encounter in a kitchen. But he really knows how to cook, French-style, and he can make magic happen from the simplest ingredients, which is the style of cooking that I really love.
“Back in the public realm, I know I’m not the first person to rave about Chai Walla in Kingsmead Square – everything about this little place is just brilliant, ditto Indian Temptation for their masala dosas. But if I’m looking for something sophisticated, it can only be Menu Gordon Jones.”
And if you’re looking for a simply sophisticated way to get the food you love delivered to your door at a time that suits you without it costing the earth, look no further; honestly, it’s better by bike.